21st Century Wire
Saturday 11th November, Armistice day, and The Guardian is editorialising on the Israel-Hamas war. “Fake news thrives on poorly regulated online platforms”, it warns. Well, yes, that’s true and it does, alongside a lot of accurate and sometimes courageous reporting. But then, even 50 years after a war, historians will still argue about key aspects. What we should be more worried about is the things that the mainstream media present as the impartial, background truth.
That’s the point Rami Ruhayem, a BBC correspondent based in Beirut, recently underlined when he wrote a public letter warning that the corporation was ‘complicit’ in Israel’s recent bombing of Gaza, rather than being neutral. The same charge can be made of many other outlets.
Here’s seven examples of how the media has, in large part, propagandised in support of what looks like a 21st century genocide.
1. Israel is at war with Hamas and is trying to minimise civilian casualties
NBC News on Nov 8, 2023 wrote: “Thousands of civilians headed towards southern Gaza after Israel warned residents to leave the north of the enclave, particularly Gaza City, which the IDF says it has encircled. The UN estimates that at least 15,000 people have heeded the Israeli military’s warnings.”
Note the language! It sounds like Israel is some kind of helpful observer. The BBC too talks of Palestinians “heeding Israel’s warnings”, rather than of them fleeing Israel’s bombing campaign – a campaign that has already killed over 10 000 civilians.
“War” is a flexible term, but really applies to conflicts between states. Hamas is, as we are constantly told, “a terrorist organisation”. If, in a real war, total war, bombs are dropped on cities, in conflicts between terrorists and governments they are not. At least, that is, until now. The result is that since November 6, the health ministry in the Hamas-controlled enclave said at least 10,022 people in Gaza have since been killed, including 4,104 children.
No wonder that the order Isreal issued for more than 1.1 million Palestinians in Gaza City and the northern Gaza Strip to flee to the south has been said by Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, to ‘amount to the war crime of forcible transfer’.
The mass exodus comes amid ongoing bombardment and a dire shortage of water, food, and fuel. Photo journalist Mohammed Zaanoun described frantic civilians carrying what they could on foot, in cars, or huddled in trucks along Gaza’s central highway, which was targeted by an Israeli airstrike that killed 70 people.
2. Israel has no plans to stay in Gaza.
November 10 2023. Netanyahu announces that Israel has no plans to stay in Gaza – in the long term: “We do not seek to govern Gaza. “We don’t seek to occupy her, but we seek to give her and us a better future.”
“Speaking to Al Jazeera’s Marc Lamont Hill on Friday, mere hours after the evacuation order was broadcast, Danny Ayalon, a former Israeli deputy foreign minister and ambassador to the United States, pointed to “a huge expanse, almost endless space in the Sinai desert,” where, he said, Israel and the international community could prepare “tent cities … just like for the refugees of Syria.””
“Minister of Foreign Affairs Eli Cohen also alluded to partial annexation. “At the end of this war,” said Cohen, “not only will Hamas no longer be in Gaza, the territory of Gaza will also decrease”. As Harvard professor Sara Roy has documented, Israeli-imposed buffer zones has long absorbed “nearly 14% of Gaza’s total land and at least 48% of [its] total arable land.” Israel’s refusal to allow the right of return for millions of other refugees, including the nearly 1.5 million registered in Gaza, is proof enough for Palestinians that any “relocation” is likely to be permanent.
972 Magazine adds extra context on the methods Israel has long used for clearing the land of Palestinians. Irgun commander Ben-Zion Cohen, who oversaw an “operation” in the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin, which saw more than 100 Palestinians executed in April 1948, later said that its intent was to spread terror among Palestine’s indigenous population, pushing them to leave. “Three or four more Deir Yassins,” Cohen boasted back then, “and not a single Arab would have remained in the country.”
3. Palestinians are “animals”
The Israeli Minister of Defense has said, “We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly.” Another high-ranking officer has said, “Human animals must be treated as such. There will be no electricity and no water, there will only be destruction.” An army spokesperson said “the emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy.”
Such hate speech and incitement have spilled over into the West. One example is US Senator Lindsey Graham’s call for Israel to “level the place.” He also said the conflict is a ‘religious war’.
Yet perhaps the most horrifying image of the conflict so far has been that of babies beheaded by the Hamas insurgents. The story went swiftly around world, propelled by no less a source than President Joe Biden who told journalists during a White House press conference: that he had seen photographs adding: “I never really thought that I would see and have confirmed, pictures of terrorists beheading children”.
This too, is a form of hate speech. Later, the White House would issue a “correction” stating that Biden did not actually see “confirmed pictures of terrorists beheading children”. However, Biden’s original horrific claim continued to circulate while the “walking back” obtained little prominence.
No matter that when the names and ages of victims were released in Israel media, no children under 5 years old appeared on the list.
No matter that the total was downgraded from 1400 to 1200, and that the list included a large number of soldiers and reservists.
But then as early as October 11, journalists like Le Monde’s Samuel Forey had already noted that the story had no basis, adding: “no one spoke to me about beheadings, let alone beheadings of children, let alone beheadings of forty children”.
None of this mattered because the Israeli narrative was intended to play on existing emotions, not to say prejudices. Which is why the IDF continued to press the story, telling journalist Ragip Soylu: “We cannot confirm any numbers. what happened in Kibbutz “Kfar Azza” is a massacre in which women children, toddlers and elderly were brutally butchered in an ISIS way of action.”
Awful things do happen in wars, but atrocity stories like these are simply propaganda. As International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan said, standing at the Rafah Border Crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip:
“We’re going to need the determination, the stamina and the professionalism to make sure that we separate allegation from fact, that we can look at the evidence, investigate incriminating and exonerating evidence equally, and most fundamentally, at this moment, to underline that there should not be any impediment to humanitarian supplies… This must be a moment when we find our shared humanity.”
The political reality of inflammatory tales is that, as the old saying of Mark Twain goes, a lie can be helfway round the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.
In this case, the horror of the “beheaded babies” gave the US the political space to green-light Israel’s bombing campaign of Gaza, with its waves of destruction that would really kill many babies and young infants. By the 9th November, the Gaza Health Ministry, run by Hamas but generally accepted as reliable, estimated that the Palestinian death toll from Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip had climbed to 10,812. “The victims include 4,412 children, 2,918 women and 676 elders, while more than 26,000 people were injured.” Another 2,650 people, including 1,400 children, were also reported to be trapped under the rubble.
And yet, as Rami Ruhayem also says in his public letter, words like ‘massacre’, ‘slaughter’, and ‘atrocities’ are used prominently by the media in reference to actions by Hamas, but hardly, if at all, in reference to actions by Israel.
4. The US is trying to do “the right thing”.
October 12 2023. White House officials announce: “We are having conversations with Israeli officials about the continued need for humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people, who are victims here as well,” said John Kirby, director of strategic communications for the National Security Council. “It’s the right thing to do,”
Leave aside whether Palestine is being ‘ethnically cleansed’ in plain sight – a powerless and impoverished city is being ruthlessly destroyed and yet the West seems indifferent. Why is this? Wherever you start, the trail soon leads back to US politics. Here, “Muslim votes” count for nothing and the Jewish lobby makes or breaks governments.
Consider for example how close is the current U.S. President, Joe Biden is to Israel. In 2010, in the middle of the then Vice President’s trip to Israel, the ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu government embarrassed Biden by announcing 1,600 new homes for Jews in East Jerusalem, despite it being supposed to be the future capital of a future Palestinian rump state.
Biden is notoriously intolerant of disagreement, and the media called the Israeli move humiliating. However, Uzi Arad, one of Netanyahu’s advisors, later revealed that when Prime Minister Netanyahu met with Biden, Biden threw his arm around “Bibi” and said with a smile, “Just remember that I am your best fucking friend here”. A moment recalling how, in 2012, Biden publicly declaring to Netanyahu: “Bibi, I don’t agree with a damn thing you say, but I love you.”
Today, the politics of Americans – and many other countries too, including the U.K – with respect to Israel is characterised by prejudice against Arabs – who are seen as various kinds of “terrorist” and ignorance (and indifference) to the history of the region. This indifference even lends itself to the irrational conviction in US political circles that the Bible predicts the Second Coming of the Messiah – but only once the Holy Land is wholly reunited under Israeli control. “Gather all the Jews beck to the land of Israel” as it says in Isiah verse 43.
It has even been suggested that Joe Biden is part of this, though I have no way of knowing if this rumour is true. What I do know is that this ridiculous and irrational view feeds into a political consensus that, one way or bloody another, Palestine needs to become “Israel”.
5. Palestinians only have themselves to blame. After all, they voted for Hamas!
Human rights groups have described Gaza, surrounded by concrete walls and barbed wire fences, as “the world’s largest open-air prison.” Since 2007, Israel has imposed an air, land and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip, crippling the economy, saying to do so was necessary to safeguard the country from Hamas’ attacks.
Today, due to Israel’s siege of Gaza, the majority of Palestinians there no longer have access to basic needs such as healthcare, water, sanitation services, and electricity. Even prior to the latest siege, their situation was already pretty desperate: according to the UN, 63% of the population was dependent on international aid; 80% lived in poverty and 95% did not have access to clean water. All this is clearly collective punishment as well as a violation of Israel’s responsibilities as the Occupying Power.
Experts in international law have argued that the siege of Gaza may amount to “a slow-motion genocide.” Key here is the fact that the Genocide Convention of 1948 lists, among the elements of the crime of genocide, the act of “Deliberately inflicting on the (national, ethnical, racial or religious) group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” And yet, despite this, the media talk is instead about how Israel “withdrew” from the Strip in 2005 and how badly Hamas has run it since then.
Linked to this is another much parroted Israeli line to the effect that Israel withdrew completely from Gaza but Hamas kept attacking it. In reality, Israel has launched missile strikes at will on the territory. Between 2008 and 2023 before the current conflict, Israeli airstrikes had killed 6,407 Palestinians in the occupied territories, 5,360 of whom were in Gaza, according to the U.N. Over the same period, 308 Israelis were killed.
Today, most of the inhabitants of Gaza are refugees or descendants of refugees from the original 1948 Nakba, or “Catastrophe” or from the 1967 war, and more than half are under the age of 18. They haven’t voted for anyone, not that voting for Hamas actually makes you responsible for everything Hamas does anymore than voting for Biden makes you responsible for his continued support for the war in Yemen – another war that has caused over ten thousand civilian deaths. Actually, Biden’s political platform included a commitment to end that support, but you could still blame citizens for not seeing through him – or indeed for not taking to the streets to overthrow him. Such ridiculous arguments are regularly used to justify killing Palestinians.
Rather than blame the Palestinians for Hamas, maybe it makes more sense to blame Israel. Because Israel carefully nurtured Hamas in the early days to undermine the Palestinian Authority.
Ironically, for all his rhetoric now, in the past Netanyahu has spoken openly of supporting Hamas as a way to deepen political and socio-economic divisions between the West Bank and Gaza with the aim of fracturing the Palestinian national movement and preventing the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.
6. Unlike the Arabs, the Jews have nowhere else to go
Alla Umanskiy, a “writer and Jewish mother”, based in the United States recently recalled Golda Meir, the fourth Prime Minster of Israel’s, words recently adding:
“The Jewish diaspora exists all over the world, but there’s only one place that welcomes Jews unconditionally and always has, since its inception. For as long as Israel exists, Jews have a home. Even Jews who, like me, don’t live there; even Jews who have never been there; even Jews who find Israel uncomfortable due to its location among Arab nations…”
Actually, Israel is the one place in the world where Jews feel under constant threat. The reason lies in the history of Israel, and it is not that complicated. Following the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent Arab-Israeli war, Israel seized land from the Palestinian Arab-allocated state and ended up with 77% of the total territory. More than half of the Palestinian Arab population was expelled or fled as refugees to Gaza, the West Bank and neighbouring countries. And since 1967, as Amnesty calculates, more than 100,000 hectares (that’s an area three times the entire Gaza strip) more of Palestinian land has been appropriated by Israel.
Yet today many American voters have been encouraged to feel indifference to Palestinian suffering for decades, and instead have passively accepted an alternative reality in which the Jewish people not only there – but worldwide – are a persecuted but courageous minority. Never mind that nearly six million Americans are Jewish and live pretty safely in America, just as they do in Europe, in Russia, even in Israel’s favourite political target, Iran.
7. You just can’t negotiate with terrorists
As long ago as 2017, Israel declared that it would not “conduct diplomatic negotiations with a Palestinian government that relies on Hamas”. A cabinet statement said it “unanimously decided that Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas, a terrorist organization that calls for Israel’s destruction.”
To be clear, on October 7, Hamas certainly did launch an unexpected attack that killed many Israelis, men women and some children too. There was the bloodshed at the music festival, and at the various “kibbutz”, as Israel calls its well-defended advance settlements (or “colonies”). However the methodical killing of the defenceless is not evidenced, it seems at least possible that the raids largely followed a haphazard military strategy in which “combatants” (including armed settlers) were killed but civilians for preference kidnapped.
It all contributes to a theme of how it is impossible to “deal” with Hamas, or indeed the Palestinians more generally, as they tend to be dominated by radical groups.
As Anthony Cordesman has put it, in an article for the Center for Strategic and International Studies called ‘The War in Gaza and the Death of the Two-State Solution’:
“This series of “wars to end all peace” has now gone on for nearly half a century, and every effort to negotiate a real two-state solution has ended in failure, a new round of fighting or Intifadas, and more tension between Israel and the Palestinians.”
This narrative belies certain facts. Firstly, that it is Israel who in fact does not wish to negotiate. There is a covertly filmed video of Netanyahu talking to settlers in which he explains how he derailed just such a negotiation – the Oslo Accords – by redefining military facilities as whole regions – like the Jordan Valley.
next time they tell you that the Palestinians never accepted "peace" (i.e. the peace of the stronger) show them this secretly filmed video in which Netanyahu explains the techniques to sabotage any accord. pic.twitter.com/gMi53mUvbc
— Lorenzo Kamel (@lorenzokamel) August 11, 2022
But the mainstream narrative recalls how Hamas’ founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin declared that Israel “must disappear from the map”, while ignoring that he also advanced proposals for a long-term ceasefire if Israel accepted the United Nation’s 1967 borders. Ignoring too that in May 2017, the chairman of Hamas’ political bureau Khaled Mashal unveiled a new charter which claimed that Hamas was not a revolutionary movement and would accept a Palestinian state within 1967 borders. So although Hamas has repeatedly put out feelers for comparatively modest peace proposals – they have all been flatly rejected by Israel and the West, leaving as the only other alternative possible, confrontation and violence. But then, Israel has this vast advantage in these areas.
In an NBC debate this month, the candidates for the Republican nomination were united on one thing. NBC moderator Lester Holt made his second question what the candidates would advise Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to do about Hamas. First to answer was Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who said, using Netanyahu’s nickname: “I will be telling Bibi finish the job once and for all with these butchers. They’re terrorists. They’re massacring innocent people. They would wipe every Jew off the globe, if they could.”
Martin Cohen is a writer and editor with a special interest in political philosophy and ethics.
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